When ascending the stairs leading up to Fredericks and Mae's third floor studio in Bushwick, you can smell the alluring scent of a wood shop from the first step. And once you enter inside the quiet but bright space, the fragrance becomes intoxicating, adding olfactory depth to the ongoing projects adorning the young designers' walls.
Long, colorful horse hair tassels and chains of painted wood prayer beads surround Fredericks and Mae founders Jolie Mae Signorile and Gabriel Fredericks Cohen, who sit at a desk in the center of the room, laying out their latest collection of objects. "We actually met in college in studio art," says Signorile, placing an intricate, screen-printed skim board on the table. "We had never spoken, but we met during a screen-printing class that Gabe was the TA for, and developed a kind of materials crush on each other, which eventually ended with us working together on a collaborative senior project."
After graduating from Oberlin in 2008, the partners moved to New York, determined to keep working together. "I guess it was kind of an evolution," says Cohen. "At first, we were both working other jobs and fitting our projects in on the nights and weekend, but eventually it got to a point where we couldn't keep taking personal checks and we couldn't keep up with the demand," he continues. "We were faking it till we made it for a while," laughs Signorile.
In 2011 the duo debuted their first seasonal collection, War Games, which re-envisioned classics like dominos, marbles and the world's oldest board game, backgammon. The games are reflective of the designers interest in making objects that are part of a larger historical and cultural context. "We both loved games, and as we began doing our research, we realized there were some that popped up again and again across multiple cultural contexts," says Signorile. "And, I think that is what attracted us to certain games over others. We want to create objects that are universal, timeless and based in these larger historical and ceremonial frameworks. We want to incorporate those stories back into the piece."
Fredericks and Mae source their materials from as many local vendors as possible, and then create everything from dip-dyed clay marbles to one of their newer projects, pressed flower kites, in their Brooklyn studio. The kites are part of a new set of games inspired by sunny days at the water's edge. "We spent a lot of last summer in the Rockaways, and when we had to start putting the season to bed, all we could think about was going back to the beach," Signorile jokes. "Luckily, we decided to hold off till this spring, but all winter we were toying with different ideas surrounding games you could just pick up and travel with."
The spring collection includes a fresh batch of portable games like Yahtzee—which they lovingly call Yacht—as well as beach tennis, a baltic birch skim board and a set of wooden bocce balls. "When we started thinking of games to take to the beach, Yahtzee came to mind. We found out it was originally a Viking game that was made popular in England under the name poker dice," says Cohen, unpacking the small, wooden Yacht box. "Dice actually started out as sheep knuckle bones, since they had so many unique faces—it's histories like that that gets us excited."
"At the end of the day, I think it all goes back to us wanting to create something gift-oriented. Our objects have an inherent duality as both functional pieces but also as ceremonial objects," points out Signorile. "We are making these special objects that I hope inspire people to think of the special people in their life. We want our work to be something that can become a family heirloom and be passed down through the generations."
On 15 March 2013, the designers will run a special one night only, solo exhibition dubbed History is Written by the Winners at NYC's Museum of Art and Design. Fans can browse Fredericks and Mae's current collection in their online shop or at an array of stockists around the world.
See more images in the slideshow. Photos by Kat Herriman.